Producing Sustainable Bio-fuel in the Desert – Masdar City

Sustainable Bio-fuel Manufacturing in a Historically Oil Rich Region

A partnership of some very large companies such as Honeywell, Boeing and General Electric recently broke ground on a demonstration project that will use desert land irrigated by seawater to sustainably produce biofuel, bio-chemicals and food. The project located in Masdar City is expected to be completed before the end of 2015.

Students learn about bio-fuels and sustainable energy Credit Masdar City

Students learn about bio-fuels and sustainable energy Credit Masdar City

This innovative research is tackling the challenge of harmoniously producing food and fuel in water- and arable land-constrained regions,” said Dr. Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Masdar.

The project is also a reflection of Masdar City’s ecosystem that enables public and private partners to coalesce and advance sustainable solutions that have social and economic impact. This type of co-innovation is how we re-imagine what’s possible and take bold ideas to commercial reality.

The pilot project is intended to run for three to five years, allowing researchers to learn more about the optimal operations and conditions to support the scalable production of bioenergy.

Masdar City students learn about sustainable fuels

Masdar City students learn about sustainable fuels

Dr. Moavenzadeh, President, Masdar Institute, said,

The UAE and the world need renewable and sustainable fuels. That is why Masdar Institute is proud to be leading the SBRC and launching the Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System, which is more than an aviation biofuel production facility; it represents a holistic approach to sustainably produce food and bioenergy in a way that does not compete with fresh water and arable land. We are pleased to begin construction of the world’s first integrated seawater bioenergy pilot plant – a truly innovative project to mark the UAE’s Year of Innovation.

James Hogan, President and CEO, Etihad Airways, said,

Etihad Airways has a crucial role in helping Abu Dhabi diversify its economy, and one way we will achieve this is by supporting the development of sustainable, carbon-neutral and commercially viable aviation fuels. This pilot facility will help clarify this system as a viable option for the future.

The 20,000 square-meter bioenergy pilot facility will include saltwater aquaculture ponds where fish and shrimp will be grown. Water from the ponds, including nutrient-rich waste produced by these fish, will be used to irrigate and fertilize salt-tolerant halophyte plants that will then be harvested and turned into aviation biofuel and other products. Flowing from the halophyte fields, the seawater will also nourish a wetland planted with mangroves – a plant that serves as a natural carbon sink to absorb carbon dioxide from the air.

Bernard Dunn, President, Boeing Middle East, said,

We are pleased to partner with Masdar Institute, Etihad Airways and other leading companies to create a new source of sustainable aviation biofuel in the UAE. In addition to helping the aviation industry to meet its environmental goals, this new facility places the UAE at the forefront of innovation that can support sustainable food production and reduce regional water pollution.

“In line with ADNOC’s sustainability policy, Takreer will provide its research techniques and support to this bioenergy pilot plant. We invest in renewable energy and believe that coupling innovation and technology has become a necessity to diversify the economy and produce environmentally viable aviation fuels,” said Jasem Ali Al Sayegh, CEO, Takreer.

Nabil Habayeb, GE’s President and CEO for the Middle East, North Africa & Turkey, said,


Driving and supporting localized innovations that address regional needs is a top priority at GE. We have an established partnership with Masdar, underlined by the opening of our Ecomagination Center in Masdar City, to strengthen the nation’s sustainable development, covering key areas such as energy and aviation, through innovative approaches. The new center is a great example of public and private sector partners working together to co-create innovative projects, especially to conserve natural resources and promote alternate energy sources.

Dr. Alejandro Rios G., Director of the SBRC and Professor of Practice at Masdar Institute, said,

The integrated seawater bioenergy pilot plant is a testament to Masdar Institute’s commitment to finding truly sustainable solutions to real world problems, like energy and food security, and freshwater scarcity. The Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System produces fish, which can be used for food, and biomass for energy, without using fresh water, in an energy efficient way. At the same time, it provides the foundation for a viable aviation biofuel industry in Abu Dhabi, bolstering the emirate’s growing aviation industry.


About Gordon Smith
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.

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